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Va. AG Expanding Computer Forensic Lab

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File photo of a person surfing the Internet. (Photo by LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

File photo of a person surfing the Internet. (Photo by LIONEL BONAVENTURE/AFP/Getty Images)

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RICHMOND, Va. — Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli said Monday that he will use part of Virginia’s share of a national Medicaid fraud settlement to expand an in-house laboratory that analyzes and processes evidence of child pornography and other computer crimes.

The office also will deploy a mobile lab to gather and process evidence at crime scenes around the state, Cuccinelli said.

The total cost of the projects is about $750,000. That’s a portion of the $10 million Cuccinelli’s office already has received from last year’s national settlement with Abbott Laboratories. The company paid $1.5 billion to settle allegations that it promoted the anti-seizure drug Depakote for uses not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The U.S. Treasury Department determined that Virginia is entitled to $115 million for leading the investigation that led to the settlement.

Treasury is allowing the attorney general’s office to use the first $10 million for internal programs. The remaining funds are intended for law enforcement, but those individual expenditures by the attorney general’s office require Treasury approval. Last week, Cuccinelli asked the department to release $30 million of Virginia’s share to shore up two state law enforcement retirement plans.

The forensic computer lab expansion will quadruple the size of the current lab by utilizing 9,800 square feet of formerly unfinished space on the ground floor of the attorney general’s office, providing more space to store computers and other digital evidence brought in for analysis.

Currently, officers have to bring evidence to the lab and wait while forensic examiners copy the computer media so they can take the original evidence back to their own department for storage, the attorney general’s office said. The expansion will allow investigators to drop off the evidence and go right back to work.

The $550,000 expansion also includes adding more computer servers with more speed to analyze evidence and more hard drive storage space to retain computer images.

The mobile unit will cost an additional $200,000.

The attorney general’s office employs three computer forensic examiners, and the plan announced Monday does not provide any additional staff. Those examiners, hired in 2012, handled 48 cases from 23 localities around the state in their first year.

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